THE BLOG
02/25/2013 10:23 am ET Updated Apr 27, 2013

Vatican Approaches Conclave As Pool Of Pope Benedict XVI's Possible Successors Dwindle

In four days, the world's most powerful religious leader from one of the the most politically and culturally influential churches in in the world steps down. But that doesn't mean Pope Benedict XVI -- or the College of Cardinals -- are slowing down with the news on what happens at the Vatican after Benedict's retirement. Here are some of the latest headlines.

-- Cardinal Keith O'Brien, the top Catholic leader in Britain, is resigning amid allegations that he inappropriately conducted himself with priests in the 1980s. He won't be attending the papal conclave because he doesn't want the media attention. O'Brien, by the way, made headlines a few days ago when he said suggested that they should be able to marry.

-- Without O'Brien in Rome, there will now be 115 Cardinals electing the next pope. Previously, Cardinal Julius Riyadi Darmaatmadja of Indonesia, who is 78, said he wouldn't attend the conclave because his eyesight and health are failing. He told an Indonesian magazine that he won't be able to read the "texts, materials, rules, and so on" at the conclave.

-- Benedict has issued a document that will allow Cardinals to start the conclave to choose the next pope earlier than the traditional 15 to 20 days after he steps down. But the decision is up to the Cardinals, who are arriving this week before the pope's last day. While they could technically vote to immediately start the conclave on March 1, they'll likely wait at least a few days if not more. A gathering this big in the church is rare and cardinals and other officials in town want time to catch up. They also want time to scope out who should be the next pope.

-- Speaking of documents, the Vatican has issued scathing critiques of the media circus surrounding an Italian newspaper article on a bombshell report on a secret network of gay leadership in the church that the newspaper (La Repubblica) says caused the pope to resign. Some observers were wondering if the 300-page report (it's a real, confirmed report, though we may not know its exact content) would be released to the public. Sorry, it won't, a Vatican representative told reporters today. But the pope will pass it on to his successor.

-- Us reporters on the pope beat these days are a friendly bunch, but we all want the scoop. It'll be hard, though, as Vatican representatives today emphasized that any non-cardinal who breaks the secrecy of the conclave will be automatically excommunicated. Cardinals in the conclave, meanwhile, won't be automatically excommunicated but seriously punished.

-- The speculation continues about who will be the new pope. John Allen Jr. of National Catholic Reporter feels strongly that it won't be New York's Cardinal Timothy Dolan. He also doesn't see it being Filipino Cardinal Luis Tagle.

-- Speculation about a black pope, Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana, has also waned, but the African church is still one to watch. NYT takes the opportunity to illuminate details on the continent's growing Catholic church.

-- Dolan, who has repeatedly scoffed at questions about his own papacy, told Michael Paulson this weekend that "you always look for somebody that reminds you of Jesus" when thinking of a new pope.

-- Whoever the new leader is, William Wan of The Washington Post writes from Beijing that the choice may or may not help foster better China-Vatican relations. The church is embroiled in a battle with China over religious freedom and its independent Catholic church, whose bishops were appointed by the state and do not answer to the Vatican.

-- With much discussion of the growth of the church in Latin America and among Hispanics, Gallup has released an interesting survey on American Hispanic faith. Gallup says Hispanic Catholics are declining in numbers in comparison to Hispanic Protestants and adds that they tend to be less religious, too.

-- While Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia (a non-Cardinal) won't be in Rome while his controversial predecessor Cardinal James Rigali will, you should keep an eye on this rising star in the church. The Vatican announced today that that World Meeting of Families, a huge international event, will happen in Philly in 2016. It's the first North American city to host the gathering.